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‘A Christmas Horror Story’ Review: Candy and Coal for Your Stocking

By  · Published on July 24th, 2015

RLJ Entertainment

Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.

For most moviegoers Christmas-themed films are usually focused on joy, love and miracles, but horror genre fans know the holiday can also lead to terror, bloodshed and human bodies being torn open like presents wrapped in flesh. From the highs of The Children (’08) and Black Christmas (’74) to the lows of Santa’s Slay and the Black Christmas remake, the holiday has become fantastic fodder for terrifically naughty behavior, and now that trend continues with the new anthology film, A Christmas Horror Story.

A family heads to a relative’s home in search of a holiday hand-out but discover a monstrous and muscle-bound Krampus instead. Teenagers sneak into a school where a bloody murder occurred one year prior. A couple and their young son trespass into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree, but something evil finds them first. Workplace violence strikes Santa’s workshop when an infection turns cheerful elves into flesh-craving zombies.

The connective tissue holding the stories in place features the town of Bailey Downs’ own DJ Dan (William Shatner) sharing his holiday thoughts and merry tunes with anyone in earshot, and as we move back and forth between tales his hopeful, eggnog-filled banter remains a constant.

The film is a collective effort – directed by Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan, and written by James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor and Pascal Trottier – and follows the Trick ‘r Treat-style of telling its stories simultaneously instead of sequentially. It works best later on as each tale is hitting its final groove, but the early going is made difficult by having to see multiple setups before anything of interest happens.

The exception here is also the film’s best tale. Santa (George Buza) notices something is amiss with one of his elves, but before he can rub his nose the little guy dies, rises and begins an epidemic of zombified elves. (Had they not booted Hermey the wannabe dentist elf years ago he could have saved lives by removing the zombies’ teeth.) He’s forced into a life or death battle and paints the North Pole red with elf blood, but while the end reveal is the film’s highlight it’s allowed to go on far too long which slowly saps its strength.

Second best is a the story about the family searching for the best tree to chop down and bring home for decorating. Something in the woods hitches a ride back home with them leading to some fun moments of suspense and revelation. It mixes the modern and the magical with suitably nightmarish results.

The Krampus segment attempts to do the same, but it’s hurt by some unnecessary plot turns and a monster that looks like a WWE wrestler with horns on his head. Actor/stuntman Rob Archer gives him size and power, but the focus on muscles distracts from the magic. The family facing off against him never even approach the area of engaging or likable which leaves viewers happy to simply countdown to their seemingly imminent demises.

Finally, the least successful story here is unsurprisingly the one that doesn’t quite fit the format. There’s nothing inherently holiday-themed about the teens being haunted by a dead girl – a crucifix is involved and her death occurred at Christmas, but neither of those factors ultimately matter. It lacks a sense of wonder too with its fairly traditional take on possession, ghosts and such, and the film sags every time it returns to this section.

Like just about every anthology film ever made, A Christmas Horror Story is a mixed bag – of gifts and coal presumably – but as a whole it lands as a mediocre affair. See it for Shatner and the Santa vs zombie elves segment, but be sure to get a gift receipt.

Fantasia International Film Festival 2015 runs 7/14–8/4. Follow our coverage here.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.